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9 Things We Love from Nine Lies About Work - Book Review

(posted: November 22nd, 2019)

Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader's Guide to the Real World, by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, may be my new favorite leadership book.

I should warn you up front that this book challenges many of the ideas currently held sacred or just assumed to be "right" in the world of work.

Yet at the same time, you may find yourself reading along and saying, "Hey, that's what I've been thinking all along!" The authors put into words, and substantiate with research, the gut-feelings and suspicions that many of us have about work, but keep inside because it goes against the grain of conventional business practices.

Instead of repeating the 9 Lies here, since Buckingham and Goodall do that very well in the book, I'm going to give you 9 of the things I loved from this book.

I could easily have made it 18, but I need to leave something for you to discover in the book yourselves!

Nine Things We Love From Nine Lies about Work

1. Treat your direct reports the way they want to be treated. Many of you have heard me say this, and I have taught it for years: The Golden Rule is a fine place to start, but the Platinum Rule--treat others the way they want to be treated--is particularly important in the workplace. The authors validate this principle throughout the book, with their focus on paying attention to employees, embracing their differences and their "spikey" uniqueness, and developing each person based on what they love doing.

2. Value diversity of personality and work style. Instead of putting together a team where everyone thinks, acts, and works more or less the same, build teams where the members bring complementary ways of working, and thinking. This creates a TEAM that is well-rounded, rather than worrying about an individual being well-rounded. It also gives more effective results. The acronym "TEAM" is one I love: Together Everyone Achieves More.

3. Love what you do; these are your strengths. Find the things you love in your work. What do you look forward to doing? Which tasks make the time fly while you are doing them? Which things do you want to go right back and do again? These are the things (jobs, tasks, activities) that you want to maximize. They indicate your strengths. "A strength is not an activity where performance is easiest, it is where performance is most impactful and increasing."

4. A leader's job is to keep the team excited and engaged. The goal of a leader is to ensure that sprint #45 is as focused and as energizing as sprint #1. Prioritize a brief check in with each team member every week, and ask just two simple questions: "What are your priorities this week?" AND "How can I help?" Checking in less often is useless because you can't get specific enough to make a difference. According to the authors, leaders who check in once a week see a 13% increase in team engagement, while those who only check in once a month see a 5% DECREASE in engagement.

5. Goals are personal & meaning is critical. Goals enable us to take what we value most and by adding details and timelines to chunk these values into a describable outcome; something vivid and tangible. If a goal is going to be useful, if it is going to help employees contribute more, then the only criterion is that individuals must set them for themselves, voluntarily. "The best companies don’t cascade goals, they cascade meaning. Our people don’t need to be told what to do, they want to be told why."

6. Weird is good. Individuality is to be celebrated and developed, not squashed into conformity and uniformity. When leaders embrace the messy reality of who their employees actually are, rather than seeing their differences as flaws and glitches, they are on their way to developing truly collaborative, and even great, teams.

7. The eight aspects of the employee experience that predict high-performing teams:

  1. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of my company
  2. At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me
  3. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values
  4. I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work
  5. My teammates have my back
  6. I know I will be recognized for excellent work
  7. I have great confidence in my company's future
  8. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

Team members who trusted their team leader were 12 TIMES more likely to be fully engaged at work!

The 8 statements measure experience at work, and leaders can actually do something about them. Show your people how what they do matters, genuinely see, hear, and connect with your people. Challenge them, recognize their unique contributions.

8. Teams eat culture for lunch. Culture may "eat strategy for breakfast," but teams are the real world at work. Teams are where the work gets done. Great teams, that collaborate effectively, are successful. And teams can be built to succeed. They can be built right from the start, or they can be fixed by managers and leaders who are brave and committed to doing the work. When people choose not to work somewhere, that "somewhere" isn't a company, it's a team.

9. "What does your company do to build great teams?" When you start looking for your next job, don't ask about culture; instead, find out what they do to build great teams, and if they value teams and team leaders. Ask what your potential new boss does to enhance collaboration on their team.

And finally, "Checking in with each person on a team: listening, course-correcting, adjusting, coaching, pinpointing, advising, paying attention to the intersection of the person and the real-world work, is not what you do in addition to the work of leading; this is the work of leading."

There is so much more of value in this book! I urge every leader, every manager, and every individual contributor who might someday become a manager, to grab a copy and read it, then choose one, two, or three things to work on with your teams. Read it with a curious mind and find little or big ways to experiment with the ideas in your work environment.

But if you don't read the book, if all you read is this review, then I suggest you take the eight statements from #7, above, and pose them as questions to each individual on your team. Armed with the answers to these questions, you can start working on your team culture. If you need an objective ear, or would just like to discuss these concepts, please get in touch!

Challenge Yourself
  • Have you read the book? What are your main takeaways?
  • As a leader, which of the 8 aspects of the employee experience do you find the most challenging to implement, or to sustain on your team?
  • As an individual team member, which of the 8 aspects of the employee experience do you find is least present in your team or work environment?

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